Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017.12.30 Hopewell @Home ▫ Hebrews 6:4-8

Questions for Littles: What had once happened to these people (v4)? What had they tasted? Of what have they become partakers (partners)? What good thing have they tasted (v5)? What powers have they tasted? It is impossible to renew them again to repentance if they do what (v6)? Why—what two things do they do to Christ? What earth receives blessing from God (v7)? What earth is about to receive curse and burning (v8)? 
In the Scripture for the sermon this week, we had our default view of the world abruptly interrupted.

We like to think of things as being good or bad depending upon what they do for us. But we are not the Alpha and the Omega. Christ, our God, is the Alpha and Omega. He is the One from whom all things come, and for whom all things exist.

Things are good or bad, depending upon whether they function according to Christ’s command, and whether they function unto Christ’s glory.

When the earth produces herbs that are useful to the farmer who cultivates it, we say, “It has been blessed by God!” After all, it is God Himself who made the rains to come upon it. Even more, it is God Himself who made it produce herbs instead of thorns and briers. So we say, “It has been blessed by God!”

Similarly, we have just now in this passage had sanctification described to us as something that comes by the Lord’s washings from heaven, and by the Lord using His appointed servants to cultivate growth in them.

So, when a believer produces fruit unto Christ and His body, we say of him, “He has been blessed by God!” After all, it is God Himself who has given His Word and Spirit by whom He washes us. Even more, it is God Himself who uses this ministry to produce in our lives that which is good, rather than that which is useless.

But, there is a frightening warning for us here at the end of v8: if nothing useful is being produced in one’s life from all of his exposure to God’s Word and Spirit, we say something far worse than simply, “It has not been blessed by God.” Rather, we say, “It is about to be cursed by God!” (v8).

There is no middle ground, no neutral response to God’s Word and Spirit: either we are producing fruit, or we are about to be cursed. Let us cry out for—and run after!—God’s blessing!
What is your habit for responding to God’s Word and seeking for Him to bless it to You?
Suggested Songs: ARP19B “The Lord’s Most Perfect Law” or HB260 “The Spirit Breathes Upon the Word”

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017.12.29 Hopewell @Home ▫ Mark 7:1-23

Questions for Littles: Who come to Jesus in v1? Where did they come from? With what do they find fault (v2)? In what manner did they wash their hands (v3)? What else did they baptize (v4)? What did they ask (v5)? Does Jesus answer their question? Whom does Jesus say prophesied about them (v6)? What did Isaiah say they did with their lips? What did Isaiah say about their hearts? What did Jesus say about their worship (v7)? Where did their worship come from, that made it vain (v7, 8, 9)? What does v10 say God commanded? What do v11-12 say got in the way of obeying God’s command? What did Jesus say defiles a man (makes him unclean, v15)? When He explains this to His disciples in v20-23, what does He describe as the manner in which what comes out of us shows us to be unclean? What does Jesus say about all foods in v19? With whom are people disagreeing, when they try to keep the Old Testament food laws? 
In the Gospel reading this week, religious leaders are shocked at the disciples of Jesus because they don’t “wash hands with a fist” (literally) before eating.

“These backwards Galileans!” they must have thought—don’t they know that up in Jerusalem we have a well-established tradition that all Bible-believing Jews have followed for hundreds of years?!

Of course, the disciples are more interested in listening to whatever Jesus says—even if they don’t always understand it well. Jesus had to explain to them that with His coming, all foods are now declared clean. Jesus had to explain to them that the point of the food laws was to impress us with how easily we become unclean.

Jesus had to point out that our uncleanness is far worse than the food laws ever even pictured. Every sin that comes out of us does so precisely because our hearts are cesspools of filthiness. As a famous late preacher summarized, “We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we’re sinners!”

Well, it’s one thing to struggle to grasp what Jesus is saying because we are dull-minded. The Pharisees and Scribes had a worse problem. Their struggle to grasp what Jesus said was because man-made religious ideas were so big to them that the commandments of God were small by comparison.

So Jesus puts them on notice: Isaiah 29:13 (cf. Col 2:22-23) was written about you! No worship or righteousness can ever be defined by the ideas of man. Only God can define what is true worship. Only God can define what is true righteousness.

Isaiah’s words are quite sharp. All worship that comes from the ideas of man instead of the command of God is “vain.” That means it is empty, invalid, and worthless. Following such practices shows that our “hearts are far from God.” Would you like for God to call your worship to Him worthless? Simply take something that man made up and treat it as if it is spiritually meaningful!

Worse, it will be a distraction from following what Jesus says to think and do. And we already have enough difficulty with that, don’t we?
What “Christian” ideas or practices were invented by men and not God? How can we squash the idea or feeling that such ideas or practices are spiritually meaningful?
Suggested songs: ARP119M “O How I Love Your Law” or HB253 “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord!”

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017.12.28 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 7:15-8:4

Questions for Littles: What doesn’t Paul understand (v15)? What doesn’t he practice? What does he do? With what does he agree (v16)? Who (what) is really doing the sin (v17)? How much good dwells in his flesh (18a)? What doesn’t he find (18b)? What does he not do (19a)? What does he practice (19b)? Who/what is doing what he wills not to do (v20)? What law does he find (v21)? What does he do according to his inward man (v22)? But what does the law in his members bring him into captivity under (v23)? How does Paul feel about this war within himself (v24)? Whom does he thank (25a)? For whom is there no condemnation (8:1)? When is there no condemnation (v1)? What relationship to the law has set him free (v2a)? From what relationship to the law has he been freed (2b)? Why couldn’t the law do this before (3a)? How is the righteous requirement of the law starting to be kept (8:4)?
In this week’s Epistle reading, we have what can be a very difficult subject: sin in the life of a believer. There are several important things to note about this sin.

The first thing to note is that it is always there. This is what Paul is referring to when he talks about a “law” in his members “that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.” Let no one ever again suggest that there will come a time in this life when a Christian can stop sinning altogether!

A second thing to note about our remaining sin is that it is no longer our nature. He repeats in v17 and again in v20 that it is not him that is doing it now, but sin that dwells in him. In his inner being, he delights in God’s law. When he hates and resists the sin that he does, he is agreeing with the law that it is good. His nature now is not that old flesh (v18, 8:1, 8:3), but rather the new nature from the Holy Spirit, by whom he wills to do good (v19, 22, 8:1, 8:2, 8:4).

A third thing to note about our remaining sin is that even though it doesn’t come from our current nature, we are still guilty of practicing it (v15, 16, 19, 25). The only ones who can say that their sin is not their nature are the ones who are at war with their sin and looking for deliverance from this body of death. Those who take this passage as a license to sin “since it’s not really them” just show that they are still dead in their sins and have no new nature at all!

A fourth thing to note about our remaining sin is that it is no longer the only thing we do. Though evil is always present with us (v21), something glorious has happened. God has killed and judged our sin at the cross of His Son (8:3), which means that it can longer claim us as its possession.

In fact, not only have we been credited with Jesus’ perfect obedience (v1, 3), but now for the first time ever, we are actually able to “fulfill the righteous requirement of the law” (to some extent, however small it may be) as we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (v4). We do nothing purely good, but we do some that is authentically good!

Finally, it is impossible that God would fail to achieve what His love has planned from eternity and accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is already now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And the days are numbered for the presence of sin. He who has begun the good work in us will complete it!
What do you do to fight sin? How are you depending not on yourself but on the Holy Spirit?
Suggested songs: ARP32B “Instruction I Will Give to You” or HB379 “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Worship Preview: Prayer of Invocation from Psalm 46:4-11

When God calls us to worship by His Word on the Lord's Day, our first act of worship is to call upon Him for His presence and help. For, it is Him Himself for whom we have come, and He alone can enable us to worship.

This week's prayer is from Psalm 46:4-11. You may find that if you read through it in advance (perhaps with your family), you will be better able to pray it with sincerity and passion in the service.
As a stream that makes glad a city, Lord be in our midst this morning. Make us Your tabernacle, the holy place where You dwell.

By Your Word, show us Your almighty works. Heaven and earth will pass away, but Your Word will not. Every other kingdom will end, but Yours is the kingdom forever and ever. 

Oh Lord of hosts, be with us!

Like Jacob, we cling to You for blessing, because we know that from You alone may we obtain it. God of Jacob, be our refuge!

Through Jesus Christ, AMEN.


2017.12.27 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 9:28-10:32

Questions for Littles: How long did Noah live after the flood (9:28)? After what did Noah’s sons father sons (10:1)? How many nations are listed here as coming from Noah’s three sons (10:2-31, should be 70)? What were divided from the nations of the families of the sons of Noah (10:32)? After what were these nations generated (v32)? 
In this week’s Old Testament reading, we heard about the families of nations that came from Shem, Ham, and Japheth. It seems like a long list of difficult names, but it is really a trumpet fanfare about the grace of God.

First, this chapter trumpets the grace of God because it is a record of man being fruitful and multiplying him upon and filling the earth. This was our original privilege in the creation. It had been forfeited in the Fall. And God had resoundingly announced this in the Flood, in which he destroyed man and man’s work, by subtracting him from, and emptying the earth.

The text highlights this grace to us in v1 and v32 by reminding us that this being fruitful and multiplying occurs “after the flood.” Yet, there is still that reminder of how grace is not an excuse for wickedness. vv8-20 are sobering. We know about the Canaanites, about whom we thought much last week because of the curse at the end of chapter 9.

But look at what else came from Ham: Nimrod (whose kingdom began with Babel), Assyria (and its capital Nineveh), and Mizraim (which is Hebrew for “Egypt”). The climax of the families of the Canaanites is four cities that famously no longer exist by the time Israel receives this book from the pen of Moses: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim. Oh the consequences of our sin upon our children!

This brings us to a second trumpeting of grace: Babel. We’ll hear more about Babel next week, but several of the nations in chapter 10 actually come to exist for the first time after chapter 11.

Why put chapter 10 first, then? Because even after the children of Shem and Japheth ignored their blessing at the end of chapter 9 (by allowing themselves to be joined to Nimrod and led by him), God was determined to separate them from Ham.

The Lord mercifully and miraculously put back into place that distinction (that “enmity”) that was originally part of the promise of the Covenant of Grace (cf. 3:15), and the loss of which had led directly to the Flood (6:1-7). It may seem better for man to be unified, but for the sake of their spiritual good, it was actually necessary and gracious that they be separated!

Finally, this chapter trumpets God’s grace by how small God’s people are. There are very many nations listed in this chapter. And there are some great and might nations listed in this chapter. But Israel isn’t one of them. Israel is this teeny-tiny insignificant slice that came out of Peleg, whom we meet in v25.

The Lord will later make this point in Deuteronomy 7, Joshua 24, and other places. It was not because Israel was big or impressive that God chose them to be His people, the ones who would receive His Word and through whom the Messiah would come. No, salvation history isn’t about their greatness or goodness… there was precious little of that! Rather, salvation history is about His undeserved love!!
What habits do we have in place to thank God for His grace? How are we watching against our pride?
Suggested songs: ARP107A “O Thank the Lord” or HB9 “Now Thank We All Our God”

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017.12.26 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 98

Questions for Littles: To whom are we to sing (v1)? What kind of song? Why—what has happened to occasion this new song? What has Yahweh made known (v2a)? What has He revealed (v2b)? In whose sight? What has He remembered (v3a)? Who has seen this (3b)? Who, then, is to shout joyfully to Him (v4)? Into what are they to break forth (4b)? What priestly instruments are named in vv5-6? What parts of creation join this praise in vv7-8? At what point (v9) has all of creation become the church?
This week’s Call to Worship, Invocation, and Confession of sin came from Psalm 98. There is little that will give us a bigger view of God, a more honest view of ourselves, and therefore a more damning view of our sin than beholding God as Creator, Redeemer, King, and Judge.

Here is a Psalm that claims to be a “New Song” on the occasion of the Lord’s having won the victory, kept His covenant, spread His church, and returned to judge.

What has gained Him the victory? Not the works of men sustained by Him, but only His own work. His right hand. His holy arm. Because there was none to save, the Lord Himself has come to do the saving—by Himself alone. Hallelujah! (cf. Isa 41:28-42:4; 59:16-21)

He revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. How? By putting on display the Pharisees, who deluded themselves into thinking that they were doing a great job of obeying the commandments? No! But by putting on display His Son as the payment for sin, showing that God’s righteousness is so complete and so exact that nothing less could ever satisfy it (cf. Rom 3:21-26).

What’s wonderful is that Jesus isn’t just displayed to the nations (at the cross, at Pentecost, and in the spread of the gospel), but He is the Savior of the nations. All who believe into Him are engrafted into Israel. God’s covenant love and covenant faithfulness to Israel (v3) turn the entire earth into His redeemed worshipers (v4).

The nations—and indeed the entire creation (cf. v7-8)—become members of the sacred assembly.

Not only do they sing and shout, but the priestly instruments which were ordained by King David are commanded here to accompany the singing (v5-6). In great David’s greater Son, the priesthood may be abolished, but there is still a melody (grace, Col 3:16) played upon an instrument (our hearts, Eph 5:19).

This is a song for when all nations shout before their King (v6) upon His coming in glory to be Judge of all (v9)! It’s a salvation song. It’s a Christian song. It’s that New Song that we will sing forever and ever in glory. May God fill our hearts with its praise already now, while we continue to wait for its final fulfillment!
How does it increase your praise to God to remember that you didn’t contribute anything to your salvation?
Suggested songs: ARP98 “O Sing a New Song to the Lord” or HB161 “Joy to the World!”

Monday, December 25, 2017

Worship Preview: Psalm 46, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

The first song for Lord's Day the 31st is A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. You can learn more about the history of this song [here]. It is, of course, a paraphrase of Psalm 46. Our Call to Worship, Prayer of Invocation, and Confession of Sin will all be coming from that Psalm

2017.12.25 Hopewell @Home ▫ Hebrews 6:4-8

Questions for Littles: What had once happened to these people (v4)? What had they tasted? Of what have they become partakers (partners)? What good thing have they tasted (v5)? What powers have they tasted? It is impossible to renew them again to repentance if they do what (v6)? Why—what two things do they do to Christ? What earth receives blessing from God (v7)? What earth is about to receive curse and burning (v8)? 
In the Scripture for the sermon this week, we hear about a frightful situation: those whom it is impossible to renew again to repentance.

Other Scriptures (1Cor 5:5) tell us of those who are put out of the church, handed over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh but the salvation of their souls. So a man can fall far without falling entirely away in the sense referred to here in v6.

So that is pretty frightening by itself: when it comes to living as those in whose lives Christ has had little effect, there is a point of no return at which hardening becomes permanent… but this point is difficult to identify.

There is a second reason that this falling away is frightening: to whom it can happen:

  • Those who were once enlightened, which is to say, those who have genuinely understood the Scriptures and the gospel. They are not still in the dark. They have been given some light
  • Those who have tasted the heavenly gift. Gift. Singular. In light of this ultra-intensely-Christ-centered-and-glorifying book, that can only be one thing. These are people who have not just some doctrine right, but a good sense of how wonderful Jesus is
  • Those who have become partakers of (literally, “partners with” the Holy Spirit). They are in a genuine church, with the genuine gospel, and genuine Christian love and service. 
  • Those who have tasted the good word of God. This reminds us that the “tasting” language goes back to chapter 5. They know about Justification in Christ for righteous standing, Sanctification from Christ for righteous living, and Glorification with Christ for a righteous vindication.
  • Those who have tasted of the powers of the age to come. They can see real sanctification all around them. They have enjoyed what it’s like to be in relationship with people who are being made more and more loving to God and neighbor, because those people belong to the age to come.

There is a sense in which this is even more frightening than Matt 7:21-23. There, the people going to Hell had a Reformed (biblical) theology of justification. Here, they have a biblical theology of the whole of salvation, and they are seeing Christ’s grace worked out by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and enjoying the benefits of belonging to such a church

Finally, a third reason that this falling away is so frightening: not just that it is permanent (which we referred to, somewhat, in the first reason), but the reason that this falling away is permanent. These people build up an immunity to the grace and glory of Jesus. O, may God in heaven protect you and protect me from such an end!

That we could become so accustomed to hearing about Christ crucified for sinners that it comes to mean little to us, and we would crucify Him again for ourselves?

That we could become so unimpressed by the glory of Christ that it comes to mean almost nothing to us to bring open shame to His name, which He has placed upon us as members of His church? God forbid it! God forbid it!
What parts of obeying Christ are we giving ourselves a pass for not following? If we find that we are being hard-hearted toward Him in one area or another, what should we do immediately?
Suggested Songs: ARP32A “What Blessedness” or HB281 “How Blest Is He Whose Trespass”